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The Pigment Timeline Project



A Colour A Day Week 32

By Ruth Siddall, on 1 November 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 32. 26th October – 1st November
Jo Volley writes…

Coloured copper. Bronze…
silver, pewter, nickel, brass.

(Haiku for S.N.)

Central: Copper – Lefranc Bourgeois Flashe Vinyl Emulsion

Clockwise from top:
Bronze – Lefranc Bourgeois Flashe Vinyl Emulsion
Silver – Lefranc Bourgeois Flashe Vinyl Emulsion
Pewter – Treasure Non Tarnishing Wax
Nickel – Lefranc Bourgeois Flashe Vinyl Emulsion
Brass – PlastiKote Fast Drying Enamel
Aluminium – Schmincke pigment bound in gum Arabic

A Colour A Day: Week 31

By Ruth Siddall, on 25 October 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 31. 19th -25th October

Jo Volley writes…

This week’s colours are manufactured by Ruth Siddall who says of them. ‘Procion MX Dyes – The difference between a dye and a pigment is that a dye is soluble in water and a pigment is insoluble. I am experimenting at the moment to try and find as many ways of making the colourful, organic compounds in dyes into insoluble pigments. These are a series of pigments I made by dyeing a starch with modern Procion MX dyes. I used potato starch as a substrate. I have seen modern dyes such as rhodamine being used in this way, so I thought I’d give it a go. If I’m honest, I’m disappointed with the pale colours produced – quite the opposite of the dyes which were intensely coloured! Chemically, Procion MX dyes are dichlorotriazines, which means they contain a ring-shaped molecule with three nitrogen ions so the formula is C3H3N3 (most ring molecules just have six carbons). In addition there are two chlorine ions attached to this ring and it is these that bond to -OH groups in fibres to produce strong dyes on cloth. Starch has -OH groups, so I had hoped it would work the same way here. There is some colour but it’s not as intense as I had hoped for.’

Each pigment is bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper. They were like no other pigment I have used before – it was rather like trying to paint with clouds – amorphous – the colour just slipping away. According to the American Meteorological Society, amorphous clouds ‘are without any apparent structure at all, as may occur in a whiteout in a thick cloud or fog over a snow surface when one loses any sense of direction – up, down and sideways’

Procion red MX-G
Procion yellow MX-4G
Procion blue MX-2R
Procion yellow MX-3K
Procion turquoise MX-G
Procion composite grey
Procion red – MX-5B




Recipes and Talks

By Ruth Siddall, on 20 October 2020

 Here are some link to resources and that people might find useful. 

Ruth Siddall’s Recipes

Slade School Pigment Farm Talks 

Over the Spring we had a series of lockdown talks to celebrate the Pigment Farm Project; the talks were about dyes, lake pigments and plants in art generally and come from Emma Richardson, Ruth Siddall, Nicholas Laessing, Andreea Ionascu and Lea Collet. You can watch the recordings of the talks here.

Slade Methods Room Recipes

Lots of pdfs with recipes and methods for making a range of artists materials and other constructions.




A Colour A Day: Week 30

By Ruth Siddall, on 18 October 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 30. 12th-18th October.

Jo Volley writes…

In October 2015, whilst on research leave, I travelled around Provence visiting pigment quarries, mines and factories to look at pigment manufacturing methods and processes. In this marvellous red landscape, I have never felt such a strong emotional relationship between the landscape and painting.  The trip was also something of a pilgrimage to visit the bibliotheque in Aix en Provence to view a remarkable manuscript made by the C17 Dutch artist A. Boogert who in 1692 completed an educational manual of how to mix every colour available to him. Each pigment is bound in gum Arabic and applied to paper with instruction as to their properties, proportions and potential. It is an extraordinary document of the pigments available at that time and of an artist’s dedication to learning. It was a humbling experience to hold in one’s hands this rare and beautiful manuscript, and to feel a connection with Boogert’s endeavours. The timeless and common manufacture of binding colour and making paint. The sheer pleasure of it… and its desire to communicate. It has also been the inspiration for this project.

Each red earth is bound in gum Arabic on W&N watercolour paper.

Collected: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Purchased: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Purchased: Sentier des Ocres, Roussillon.
Collected: Les Mines des Bruoux, Gargas.
Collected: Mathieu Ocre Usine, Roussillon.
Purchased: Les Mines des Bruoux, Gargas.
Purchased: Mathieu Ocre Usine, Roussillon.


A Colour A Day: Week 29

By Ruth Siddall, on 11 October 2020

A Colour A Day: Week 29. 5th -11th October

Jo Volley writes…

In the early 1800’s the mineralogist Abraham Werner published the Nomenclature of Colours to identify minerals by key characteristics. It was later amended by Patrick Syme, C19 Scottish flower painter, having been introduced to it by Robert Jameson who had studied for a year under Werner before becoming a professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University. Jameson had matched Werner’s descriptions with the actual minerals, Syme then used these as his starting point for the colour names, descriptions and actual colour charts introducing references to animals and vegetables. Darwin took a copy on the HMS Beagle voyage (1831-1836) and its terminology, ‘lent both precision and lyricism to Darwin’s writings, whether he was detailing the changeable ‘hyacinth red and chestnut brown’ of the cuttlefish, ‘the primrose yellow’ of species of sea hare, or the ‘light auricular purple’ and provided his naturalist contemporaries with clear point of reference, and enabled all his readers to clearly envision the creatures and settings of lands that most, in a pre-photography age, would never see.’

Extracts from Publisher’s notes Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, Natural History Museum



A Colour A Day: Week 16

By Ruth Siddall, on 12 July 2020

A Colour A Day Week 16: 6th -12th July

Jo Volley writes…

This week’s A Colour A Day is inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting (seven panel), 1952.

Of the series, his friend the composer, John Cage wrote:

To Whom / No subject / No image / No taste / No object / No beauty / No message / No talent /
No technique (no why) / No idea / No intention / No art / No object / No feeling / No black / No
white (no and) / After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in
these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not
destroyed by the action of shadows. / Hallelujah! the blind can see again; the water’s fine.

Read from left to right are 7 white pigments bound in gum arabic on W&N watercolour paper.

  1. Lead
  2. Zirkonium silicate
  3. Egg Shell
  4. Zinc
  5. White Earth
  6. Fluorescent white
  7. Titanium

A Colour A Day: Week 7

By Ruth Siddall, on 10 May 2020

A COLOUR A DAY – Week ;  4th – 10th  May

Jo Volley writes……

This week’s colours are a homage to our key workers and are from Winsor & Newton’s Professional watercolour range.

The rainbow mirrors human aims and actions. Think,  and more clearly wilt though grasp it, seeing Life is but light in many-hued reflection; Goethe Reflection,Thinking, Mirrors

  1. Cadmium Red
  2. Cadmium Orange
  3. Cadmium Yellow
  4. Cobalt Turquoise
  5. Winsor Blue
  6. Indigo
  7. Dioxazine Violet


A Colour A Day: Week 4

By Ruth Siddall, on 19 April 2020

A COLOUR A DAY – Week 4 – 13th -19th April

Jo Volley writes …

For Week 4, here are 7 green earth pigments from various locations from around the world.

‘I kept putting the same colour on – the same colour, the same colour – but every time I put it on it was different. Each time it was this whole new light/colour experience. It was not a revelation, but a whole wonderful new experience… To me, it involves harnessing some of the powers of the earth. Harnessing and communicating.’  Brice Marden on terre vert

  1. Bavaria
  2. Verona
  3. Cyprus
  4. Austria
  5. France
  6. Russia
  7. Poland

Jo Volley, 19 April 2020

Red Pigments in Roman Britain

By Ruth Siddall, on 31 October 2018


This exhibition, installed for the month of November 2018, in the vitrine Material Museum/Museum Material in the foyer of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, is one of the research outcomes of a project completed during Summer 2018 by UCL students Alexa Marroquin and Jessica Manuel, supervised by Ruth Siddall. Jessica and Alexa are both successful recipients of UCL Laidlaw Scholarships, which gives them the opportunity to undertake academic research in their first year of undergraduate study. Their project, ‘Red Pigments in Roman Britain’ has looked at the range of red pigments available to Romano-British artists and together they have made a comparative study of the ancient pigments available and their modern analogues; rose madder, red lead, cinnabar/vermillion and red ochre. Alexa is studying for an MSci Chemistry and Jessica is studying for a BA History of Art with Material Studies at UCL. Together they have performed scientific analyses of the pigments and also prepared pigments as paints to test their workability and colour.

Jessica Manuel (left) and Alexa Marroquin (right) and their exhibition in the Material Museum.

The Exhibition RED in the Material Museum, UCL Slade School of Fine Art

Over to Jess and Alexa …

‘Within this exhibition, RED, we have decided to include various objects that encapsulate and refer back to our Laidlaw Programme summer research project, Red Pigments in Roman Britain.Coming from a background of Art History with Material Studies and Chemistry, we have used both our interests and practical disciplines within our research to analyse the red pigments used in Romano-British wall painting fragments.

Our research started within familiarising ourselves with articles and texts that broadened our understanding of common red pigments utilised by Roman artists, most of which were taken from archaeological sites or museums and are painted objects from across Roman Britain, and also throughout the extent of the Roman Empire.

From this literature research we determined which of the analytical methods would be the most feasible and efficient to identify organic and inorganic red pigment samples such as: Red Ochres, Red Lead and Cinnabar, as well as the organic pigment: Rose Madder. Of the analytical techniques used across many other studies, we limited our research to UV-VIS, ATR-FTIR, RAMAN, XRD and Polarised Light Microscopy (PLM). We found that the most useful analytical technique was Polarised Light Microscopy, and this by far produced the most fascinating results.

By using all of these analytical techniques we were able to produce a reference data set that we can compare with the pigments found on actual wall painting-fragments acquired from an archaeological site; a Romano-British Villa at Sudbrooke in Lincolnshire. Roman wall-painting fragments were not simply painted in red, but often in bands of different coloured paint that we additionally identified as carbon black and chalk/calcite.’

Installing the Exhibition


Key to Objects in the Exhibition

1. Jar containing Mercury(II) Sulfide (HgS) / Cinnabar. This pigment, derived from the natural mineral cinnabar was considered a very valuable commodity in the Roman World. It came from the mercury mines at Almaden in Spain.


2. Jar containing Lead(IV) Oxide (Pb3O4) / Red Lead pigment. Often referred to as minium secondarium during the Roman Empire as it was considered as a second-rate pigment compared to its more expensive counterpart, cinnabar. A synthetic pigment, Red Lead was made from scrap lead exposed to vinegar fumes. This produced white lead which could then be roasted to produce this read pigment.


3. Jar containing Iron(II) Oxide (Fe2O3) / Red Ochre. The main component of red ochre is the mineral hematite, but as this is an impure, geological deposit, other impurities may also be present. The pigment in the exhibition is supplied by Rublev Colours. However ochres are ubiquitous geological deposits and they were a cheap and readily available artists’ material.


4. Jar containing Rose Madder pigment. Madder is a dye derived from the plant species Rubia peregrina or R. tinctorum. Rose Madder produces a bright-pink pigment. This pigment is supplied by Cornelissens.


5. Large wall-painting fragment from the Romano-British Villa at Sudbrook, Lincolnshire. Five different coloured bands are present. The red band was analysed by Raman spectroscopy, and hematite was identified as the main pigment used.

6. Small wall-painting fragment from the Romano-British Villa at Sudbrook. The bright-red band was analysed, by Raman spectroscopy, and cinnabar was identified as the pigment.


7. Image of Hematite crystals in Red Ochre under Plane Polarised Light. In this sample hematite crystals are finely grounded and have a deep brown-red body colour. This sample also contains crystals of yellow ochre, goethite. x 400 magnification, plane-polarised light.


8. Image of Red Lead crystals viewed using polarising light microscopy under crossed polars. Some particles exhibit emerald-green interference colour characteristic of red lead. x 400 magnification, cross-polarised light.


9. Mineral Sample of red ochre from Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean, England. Clearwell has been a major quarry site for ochre pigments from the Roman period to the present day.


10. Mineral specimen: Cinnabar from Guizhou Province, China.  

11. Mineral Specimen: Crocoite is the mineral analogue of red lead. This sample is from Dundas, Tasmania, Australia.


12. Root of Rubia tinctorium, from which madder is extracted.


13. Paint trial of red ochre from Clearwell Caves, filled with chalk in a linseed oil medium.


14. Powdered X-ray diffractogram of Red Ochre. The sample diffracts the X-rays, producing a diffraction pattern unique to the material in question which can then be compared to an array of reference diffractograms. This technique was useful in confirming the presence of certain impurities found using polarised light microscopy.


Many thanks are due to the following people; Project Supervisor – Ruth Siddall; Martin Vickers – Senior Research Associate & Inorganic Section Laboratory Manager, UCL Chemistry; Martyn Towner – Lab Technician, UCL Chemistry; Zilu Liu – PhD student, UCL Chemistry; Jayne Dunn – UCL Culture; Alan Crease & Zoe Tomlinson – Sudbrooke Roman Villa; Jo Volley & Grace Hailstone – UCL Slade School of Fine Art.

This research was funded by the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme and undertaken by Alexa Marroquin and Jessica Manuel.